Here is what I think about while I’m working with my hands: everything.
For that fact alone, I love working with my hands. While I peel carrots, drive long distances, wash dishes, I also woolgather. Those sorts of tasks make a connection to my brain that doesn’t require the involvement of my conscious self. That state — a sensation of simultaneous emptiness and fullness — leaves my mind free to wander.
Today, I’m peeling wallpaper, which comes off mostly in irregular one-inch sections. It’s been painted over with cheap white paint, making it brittle and inflexible, and impervious to the water I keep spraying on it. I wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to build a new house than to fix this one.
At some point, I fall into a rhythm and the work becomes automatic. I compose poetry about peeling wallpaper, a metaphor for my life, paring away layers to unearth the real persona. Fortunately, there are fewer layers to the wallpaper than to my psyche.
All hope lies in the hand that holds the pen. I am like an envelope: I put the words in and wait for the letter to arrive, by which time I hope the words have arranged themselves properly, meaningfully, like a magnetic alignment, north to south. And if the words fall randomly around, I pick them up carefully, so as not to disturb the chaos.
I start to see forms in the half-peeled paper, as if I lay in the summer grass looking up at the clouds. There’s an eagle, a unicorn, a cat with his back all hunched over.
The morning lies still all around me. I’m hell-bent as my trail runners carry me through the woods to Macy’s to write this morning. It is barely even cold outside, even though it snowed a good three inches last night. Once the sun comes up, the air warms quickly, turning the trails and sidewalks slick. I feel the tingling of every body part, except the back of my neck. It’s the magic of endorphin rush, the magic of what I now characterize as “absence.”
Almost always, my altered-state, hypnotic experiences involve numbness in my hands. My professions – as a textile artist and as a writer – require me to be fully present with my hands. To be temporarily absent from my hands is the most ethereal, un-present feeling I can imagine.
My left brain and my physical body are peeling wallpaper, but my right brain is traveling through the forest and the fields. I give in to the scents of vanilla and pine, and take a vacation from my everyday life.
I am carrying a hoe up and down the rows of a central Indiana cornfield. My friend Lynne and I are on the job by 5:30 a.m., slathered in sunscreen, zinc cream thick on our noses, dressed in long-sleeved shirts and fatigue pants to keep the spiders off. In the afternoon, we come home exhausted and crash on Lynne’s bed upstairs, listening to Bob Marley with the windows open, hoping to catch some breeze in the mid-July heat. We daydream and nap and talk about art.
My hands hurt when I hold my pen too tightly. It seems so old-fashioned to write with a pen on a legal pad, but I crave that invisible line between my hands and my right brain. It makes writing by hand worthwhile.
My right hand often goes cold when I passively surf the web, or check e-mail. Is that a sign of an unhealthy connection between electronics and my brain? I have the totally unscientific thought that electronic experiences seem to interfere with my right brain activity. In any case, I am more interested in authentic experiences than in virtual ones.
I have short nails, imperfect cuticles. Sometimes I forget to use lotion, and sometimes I don’t use it because it contaminates whatever I’m working on with oil. But I’ve lived in the high desert for over twenty years. Now my hands look like my mother’s hands, like the hands of a much older woman.
The drywall, which has been appearing in ever increasing areas, is now fully revealed. I’m finished peeling wallpaper and I wonder what to do with my hands.